Melina Acosta – Active Minds Blog Changing the conversation about mental health Mon, 10 Jul 2017 17:03:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Active Minds in the Community Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:40:25 +0000

Active Minds is all about raising mental health awareness on campus. However, chapters are also part of larger communities that could benefit from our messaging, too!  We interviewed Floie Stouder, the advisor for Active Minds at Indiana University – Purdue University at Fort Wayne (IPFW), and Diana Mathew and Brynne Alexander, president and vice president of Active Minds at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), to get some pointers on how your chapter can become more integrated with your local community.

  1. Make community connections through your campus counseling center.

Whether you have a staff liaison in the counselor center or your advisor is on the counseling staff, ask your campus counseling center about local organizations you could partner with. They may know of ongoing and upcoming activities with local mental health organizations and other relevant organizations. Stouder shared, “If the therapist that works with the chapter knows the community and has connections, and students make themselves aware of what [volunteer opportunities are] out there, they can decide as a team what they want to participate in that fits the mission of Active Minds.”

  1. Link up with local chapters of major mental health groups and related organizations.

Most regions across the country have local chapters of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).  Have your chapter register for their community walks or volunteer at their community events. To this point, Alexander emphasized, “The simple act of searching for various organizations like NAMI or AFSP and reaching out to them goes a long way. See when they have meeting times, and attend! See when they are planning community events and offer those as volunteer events for your chapter members.”

For instance, the IPFW chapter has volunteered at a local bereavement center called Erin’s House. Stouder explained, “This is a place in the community for grieving families and children who have lost loved ones to go for meetings and support. Once a year, I have new Active Minds students tour Erin’s House to promote awareness. Sometimes, someone commits to [regularly] volunteering for Erin’s House.” Turning a one-time service event into a regular volunteer activity can strengthen your ties to the community and give you perspective on how mental health factors into real-world situations.

  1. Create an officer position devoted to service events.

If planning outreach activities is not currently within the scope of your executive board, create a position for a volunteer/outreach coordinator. Have the coordinator research volunteer opportunities in your community, including at hospitals, local schools, bereavement centers, children’s and women’s shelters, and mental health centers, and schedule a few hours one weekend to serve. Your chapter could even set up a bimonthly/monthly volunteer schedule with one or more organizations, if your chapter members express interest in doing so. Subscribing to the e-mailing lists for these organizations is a good way to stay up-to-date with upcoming volunteer opportunities.

Your volunteer/outreach coordinator should strive to make service events as inclusive and convenient as possible. For volunteer events held on the weekends, public transportation may not be running as per usual, which may make getting off campus difficult. Mathew and Alexander recommended that chapter members meet at a central location on campus and then carpool to volunteer events. Your volunteer/outreach coordinator can offer club credits or incentives to members who attend, and offer extra credits to those who offer their vehicles to carpool!

  1. Partner with other related student organizations for their community service events.

A great way to strengthen or develop partnerships on campus is to join another student organization’s service events. Connect with the leadership in other organizations over email, send a representative to other organizations’ general meetings, or, as Mathew suggested, “Ask if any of your chapter members are involved in other organizations with upcoming volunteer opportunities.”  This will allow your chapter to foster meaningful partnerships and coordinate collaborative service events. For example, the Active Minds chapter at UTSA has previously coordinated with the student psychology club for joint volunteer events at the San Antonio State Hospital.

Alexander shared, “We’ve found that most ideas that we have, like screening a movie about depression or hosting a tabling event about sexual assault, have a much greater impact through partnerships and communication with other student organizations. It’s most important to keep an open mind about potential collaborations; don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone and everyone that could be of help to your cause.”


April Chapter of the Month: Virginia State University Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:00:24 +0000

Congratulations to the Active Minds chapter at Virginia State University for being selected as the April Chapter of the Month!  The chapter’s stigma-fighting programs this semester have successfully generated conversations about mental health on the VSU campus, and the national office couldn’t be prouder to recognize their efforts.

Active Minds at VSU recently hosted Happiness Day to promote positivity and well-being to the campus community.  The chapter set up an interactive display in a highly-trafficked area of campus and drew students, faculty, and staff to the event to engage with items that represented happiness.  The chapter also distributed freebies with positive messaging to attendees, which was clearly appreciated during what can be a stressful spring semester.

Additionally, the chapter created a short and engaging video that showcases what students think when they hear about “mental health issues.”  Students who were interviewed for the video were cognizant of the impact that stigma has and mentioned the importance of raising awareness for mental health on college campuses and within minority communities.

In September 2016, the chapter collaborated with their local Community Service Board and held a suicide awareness walk on campus followed by a suicide awareness forum.  At the forum, students had open discussions about how suicide had impacted their lives and the importance of seeking help.  The chapter’s suicide prevention messaging reached 60 members of the campus community through these two events and deepened their ties to their local community.

What’s been instrumental to the chapter’s success at VSU so far?  Their executive board says, “It is important to find a core group of volunteers who support the mission of Active Minds and are committed to getting out the message and having creative programs on campus. We have student volunteers who are passionate about the cause and have personal connections to those suffering from mental illness. We also have an advisor who is very committed to the mission of Active Minds and supportive of our ideas.”

Next up in the spring semester, Active Minds at VSU plans to collaborate with the Violence Prevention Coordinator and have a tabling event for Safety Day, which will feature a variety of speakers and informational tables to raise awareness for mental health, suicide awareness and prevention, alcohol awareness and prevention, sexual assault awareness and prevention, fire safety, and personal safety on campus. The chapter will also host activities during Stress Less Week to remind students of the importance of self-care during finals.

Congratulations again to Active Minds at Virginia State University!  The national office is inspired by the work you are doing on your campus and in your local community to fight stigma and raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.

What REALLY Happens When You Reach Out to Crisis Lines? Mon, 03 Apr 2017 13:58:24 +0000 As someone interested in mental health, you may know the numbers to the Crisis Text Line (text BRAVE to 741741) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) by heart. What you may not know is what happens — and what doesn’t happen — once you pick up your phone to reach out in a crisis. We partnered with our friends at the Crisis Text Line to dispel myths surrounding these services, so you can know what to expect when you place a call or send a text to help yourself or a loved one get through a difficult time.

Myth #1: I must be experiencing thoughts of suicide to reach out to a crisis line.

The trained counselors at the Crisis Text Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are available 24/7 for anyone who is experiencing any crisis, such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, LGBTQ issues, bereavement, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or mental illness-related concerns.  (Check out the topic trends from past text conversations here.) Although what is considered a ‘crisis’ is defined loosely to encourage anyone in need to reach out for help, callers and texters should recognize that crisis lines are neither short- nor long-term substitutes for therapy, emergency care, or professional health care.

Myth #2: If I mention that I’m suicidal, they’ll send the police to my location.

The Crisis Text Line engages in an “active rescue” (i.e., emergency services) in less than 1% of crises.  The goal of the Crisis Text Line is to de-escalate the situation and work with the texter to identify the best options for seeking help locally. Emergency services are only alerted when there is imminent risk of harm to the texter and when the texter is unable or unwilling to create a safety plan (for example, unable or unwilling to separate themselves from their means for suicide or self-harm).  Similarly, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website emphasizes that its crisis counselors strive to empower the caller and help them problem-solve to identify the best course of action, meaning emergency services are only involved in situations where the caller is in immediate danger.

Myth #3: Since crisis lines have the potential to send emergency services to my location, my call/text is not confidential.

Anonymity is of utmost important to the Crisis Text Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When you call or text a crisis line, your location and phone number are encrypted or otherwise anonymized, making it impossible for them to trace you.  In some situations, counselors at these crisis lines may ask you to provide personally identifiable information (your name and home address) to better assist you, but you are under no obligation to share this information over text or on the phone.

Myth #4: I can only reach out to crisis lines via text or phone call.

You can also connect with the Crisis Textline and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline over Facebook Messenger.  You can reach out to the Crisis Text Line by hitting “Send Message” on their Facebook page.  Facebook communication with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a little different: if a post of yours is flagged for suicidal content, Facebook reviews it and gives you the option to call and/or enter a Facebook chat with a counselor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The best part about communication with either of these crisis lines over Facebook is that your information is encrypted and anonymized, so you can rest assured that even your Facebook conversations with these services are confidential and secure.  They won’t have access to your profile or other identifying information, so they’ll only know what you tell them – nothing more!

So, what does happen when you call/text a crisis line?  After you text BRAVE to the Crisis Text Line at 741741, a trained crisis counselor will receive it and respond within minutes. Then, the crisis counselor will help you de-escalate your situation and connect you to help locally.

When you call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), you’ll hear an automated message with additional information and options while your call is routed to your local Lifeline network crisis center and hear some cool elevator music while you wait to be connected to a crisis counselor. Once you’re connected, you’ll have someone to listen to you, provide support, and connect you with help.

Sounds simple, huh? Don’t be intimidated or frightened by these free and confidential national resources.  On the other end of your text or call is a trained, caring individual who is volunteering their time to help you work through rough patches and access local resources. Reaching out when you need help is brave, no matter how big or small you think your issues are. Above all, your safety and privacy are paramount to the Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, so you’ll be in great hands.

Still have questions or concerns about crisis lines?  Check out the websites for the Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for more information.

Student Mental Health and Media: When is it Time to Unplug? Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:39:34 +0000 Catching up on the news can sometimes leave us feeling more pessimistic than informed. Some may avoid the media altogether to spare themselves the stress, while others are glued to their screens, unable to disengage from the 24/7 coverage. How can we balance our mental health with staying up to date on current events? What implications does this have on college student mental health?

We interviewed Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a psychologist and researcher on mental health and media at the University of Texas at San Antonio, to find out!

The Relationship between Media and Mental Health

The media weren’t always as pervasive as they are today. Technological advances in communications, especially social media, transformed the news from a once-a-day occurrence in the form of the nightly news or daily paper, to a non-stop barrage of news stories from every electronic device we own. “Throughout history, it’s been too hard to get information and not enough people knew what was happening,” shared Dr. McNaughton-Cassill. “Now, it’s too easy to get information, and we don’t know how to sift it.”

The expansion of news media has been accompanied by a change in the tone of news delivery. Dr. McNaughton-Cassill discussed the factors that contributed to the rise of sensationalist news. “To sustain 24/7 news coverage, [media outlets] have to make the news pretty sensational and catastrophic to catch viewers’ interests.”

“They are funded by advertisements and are competing with reality shows and other channels to get viewers, so they very much showcase the negative and the sensational. The advantage of earlier, more neutral media was that the news channels saw the news as a public service, so they didn’t require the nightly news to make a profit; but today, they do.”

What impact does constant news have on college student mental health? While no definitive research has been done to compare how media affects college-aged students differently than other age groups, Dr. McNaughton-Cassill’s research with college students shows that news does not create clinical depression or anxiety, but can change moods and upset people in the short run, making us feel hopeless, angry, or anxious.

“Research suggests that [the media] exacerbate ongoing feelings [in healthy individuals], and symptoms of those with mental illness, especially those with PTSD.” She highlighted the need for more research in this area, saying, “It’s hard to know whether depressed or anxious people consume media differently.  Are they drawn to the media to confirm their [negative world] views? Are they consuming lots of media because they’re lying at home not doing other things? It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem that we don’t have the answer to.”

Self-Care Tips when Consuming Media

Recognize your triggers.

A practicing psychologist, Dr. McNaughton-Cassill’s recommendations for assessing your media consumption behaviors are rooted in cognitive-behavioral therapy. “Determine why and when you’re consuming media.  Am I bored?  Am I looking for attention, excitement, a distraction?”

Once you’ve teased out the underlying cause, set goals for your desired level of media consumption. That may look like limiting yourself to a certain amount of time checking the news daily, or narrowing down multiple news sources into fewer ones to avoid overload.

Media stress can also be improved by identifying which types of media are most conducive to your personal mental well-being. Dr. McNaughton-Cassill shared, “I don’t like visuals too much — especially graphic ones give me nightmares — so I manage better listening to the radio or getting news from written sources.”


Our electronic devices are so ingrained into our daily routine that they often overshadow other aspects of our lives. Dr. McNaughton-Cassill spoke to the importance of including other activities in our day to break up the constant slew of news.

“When we ask college students how much time they spend awake, not engaging with other people or media, it’s less than an hour a day. Combine that with getting less exercise, sleep, and outdoors-time, and we see increased rates of depression. Actively putting these [activities] back in your life could be one way to combat the effects of the constant influx of negative news.”

Intentionally disconnecting from our phones for even an hour a day may be easier said than done, if only due to losing a false sense of control over what’s going on. “The truth is, being disconnected for an hour or two won’t change the outcome of things. It’s not a rational fear; it’s more an expectation of, ‘If I’m in the know, somehow I’ll be more in control’, which is not true.”

Get involved.

If certain news stories leave you feeling helpless, you can channel that feeling into something positive for a relevant cause. While no one person can solve perennial, global problems like terrorism, poverty, animal cruelty, or environmental change, volunteering for organizations related to the issues you care about can be beneficial to your mental health.

“College students could especially benefit from [volunteering], not just because you’re doing something important, but also because it gets you out of your college bubble. If you go out and meet other people who share your concerns, you expand your social circle, which can be a really positive thing.”

Advocating for Better Media Practices

Dr. McNaughton-Cassill recommended Solutions Journalism, a style of journalism that provides consumers not only with a problem, but also with potential solutions. “[Unlike sensationalist reporting,] the message from Solutions Journalism is not, ‘The world is ending and the sky is falling — could this happen to you?’ It’s more of, ‘Here’s the problem, here’s a longer-term story, and here’s a solution.’ The idea is that [consumers] will eventually begin to demand this kind of storytelling.”

Advocating for this kind of reporting on your campus and in your local community could be a step towards more mindful media reporting practices, especially when covering events related to mental health and suicide.

Dr. McNaughton-Cassill also recognized the power of peer-to-peer communication in promoting healthy social media practices, something that Active Minds chapter members know a thing or two about.  “As individuals, we forget the power we have to sway our peers. If we’re reading through our news feed and notice that a friend shared something inappropriate about mental illness, for instance, we can comment on it and correct them without attacking them.”

“You can say something like, ‘I know a lot of people think that, but have you considered this perspective?’ Advocating within your social group really can help.”

Chapter of the Month Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:00:55 +0000 Congratulations to Active Minds at the University of Maine for being selected as the March Chapter of the Month!  Their efforts to raise awareness for mental health on their campus have been innovative and engaging, and the national office is excited to recognize UMaine for their awesome stigma-fighting work.

One of AM at UMaine’s biggest strengths is programming. In honor of National Day Without Stigma, UMaine hosted a tabling event called “Watch Your Mouth,” where students took a pledge to be more mindful of their language to avoid stigmatizing those with mental health conditions. The chapter took pictures of visitors with the pledge and provided mental health resources at this event.

Last month, AM at UMaine hosted their first-ever Mental Health Monologues, a story-telling event where students shared their experiences with mental health and illness. A total of thirteen performances depicted true, personal stories of the struggle, hope and healing associated with topics like self-harm, suicide, depression, and anxiety. With more than 200 people in attendance, this event successfully combated stigma by encouraging open and honest dialogue about mental health and illness among UMaine’s students.  Watch UMaine’s Mental Health Monologues event here!

The chapter also raffled off self-care baskets to raise funds during the event. Post-event surveys indicated that the Mental Health Monologues program was extremely well-received, with attendees requesting that the chapter to host the event again next year. Looking ahead to the remainder of the spring semester, AM at UMaine has potential collaborations with local mental health organizations on deck.

Co-president Russell Fascione shared two tips for chapters seeking to grow their programming and fundraising efforts. “First, utilize the Program Bank on the Active Minds website! It not only gives you ideas, but also tells you the successes and downfalls of the programs so that you can easily assess how you might do something similar on your campus and get the best possible results.”

“Second, just have a good ol’ brainstorming session with your chapter, asking them things like, ‘Out of everything we’ve done before, what’s worked and what hasn’t?’, ‘Do we want to build on the things we’ve done or do something totally new?’, and ‘What do the students here need to know about mental health?’ Encourage creativity and get everyone involved so that no idea seems too big to pull off.”

What does UMaine’s e-board consider to be the key to their chapter’s success? “Making sure no member’s strengths go unnoticed. Utilizing the connections and talents of every member seems like a no-brainer, but it’s key, especially when planning big events or multiple programs and fundraisers at once.”

Congratulations again to the Active Minds chapter at the University of Maine!  The national office is proud of your efforts to host inclusive and educational programs and to promote mindful discussion about mental health on your campus and beyond.

Life after Active Minds: Pursuing a career as a mental health advocate Mon, 13 Mar 2017 15:46:03 +0000 This post is the second in a two-part series on life after Active Minds.

Have you ever considered Active Minds to be more like a second major or part-time job than an extracurricular activity? Has your time with Active Minds in college made you consider a career in mental health advocacy? Are you seeking any and all career advice you can get?

Look no further! We’ve talked to professional mental health advocates (all of whom are former Active Minds members!) to ask about their transition from student advocate to professional advocate and to solicit advice for post-graduation life.

  1. There is no recommended or preferred degree for those looking to work in mental health advocacy.

Ashli Haggard, a project associate for a sexual assault prevention organization, discussed the versatility of the mental health field and those working in it: “A movement as robust and involved as mental health advocacy movement needs all skill sets. No matter what you’re good at, there’s a way to apply it to make positive changes in the mental health realm.”

However, getting a graduate degree in a specific area could be necessary, depending on where you plan to work. According to Marian Trattner, suicide prevention coordinator at The University of Texas at Austin, “To work at a university [doing mental health advocacy work], you’ll at least need a master’s degree in public health or social work with a focus in community organizing, or a master’s in student affairs or higher education with experience in mental health advocacy work. It all depends on what specific population and setting you want to work with.”

If you are pursuing graduate study, Trattner suggested, “Focus your graduate student thesis topic on something related to mental health; this can make up for lack of experience in certain areas when applying to jobs. I had a suicide prevention assistantship in graduate school that got me in the door for my job at UT Austin, along with coursework that showed I knew how to apply theory to real world practice.”

  1. Pursue experiences that will give you insight into what it’s like to work in the field of mental health advocacy.

While you’re still in college, you can beef up your resume for future advocacy positions by helping out with programs and departments that are related to mental health. Trattner suggested, “If your campus has a peer education program through the counseling center, do that.  If not, get involved with the health center’s peer education program.”

“See if you can get a student assistantship with your campus’s health center or an internship with your local mental health non-profit. Reach out to counseling services and offer to volunteer, join a student advisory board for counseling and wellness services, seek a position in these offices as a graduate student, or volunteer for a crisis hotline.”

If you have an organization in mind that you might want to work with, keep tabs on their job, volunteer, and internship postings. “I found a list of organizations that I supported, believed in and would be happy to work for. I checked their websites regularly for open positions, and that’s how I found my current job.” Hayley Harnicher, Speakers Bureau Coordinator at Active Minds, found her current job by doing just that. “The Active Minds jobs page was on my browser all the time, but it may also have just been really good timing,” she said.

  1. Don’t worry – in 20 years, you’ll still have a job in this field.

Current demand and job security are factors to consider for any potential career path. How can we expect the mental health field to transform over the next few years, and what does that mean for potential advocates?

Haggard said, “The field will change but it’s never going away. The job you might have in 20 years might not be the job you think you’re going to have, but we’ll always need people doing this work because people will always have mental health.”

Maggie Bertram, Associate Director for Training and Education at Active Minds, Inc., shared, “If we advocates are doing the best that we can to change people’s minds, the idea is to work ourselves out of a job. But, the historian piece of my brain knows that social change takes a long time, and we haven’t been working on this issue of mental health advocacy for very long in the course of modern history. [In 20 years,] there will still be a field where we need mental health and suicide prevention advocates.”

  1. You will derive plenty of fulfillment and pride from your work, making the tough days worth it.

When asked about his proudest moment on the job so far, Robyn Suchy, chapter coordinator at Active Minds, Inc., shared, “I spoke at the White House Summit on Millennial Health a couple of months ago, in regards to getting young people to register for the Affordable Care Act and emerging issues for young adults. I served on a panel with Mental Health America and a lot of movers and shakers in the mental health field, so that was really cool.”

Bertram feels proudest when chapter members are recognized for their successes on campus: “I largely see my role [with Active Minds] as a facilitator so that students can do the work that they’re passionate about doing. When we have a chapter member or a chapter who wins a national award or a student organization of the year award on their campus, I’m just really proud of them.”

In regards to what work-related initiative has brought her the most pride so far, Trattner shared, “In 2014-2015, the state of Texas passed a law requiring public universities to provide suicide prevention information to all incoming students on their campuses. I led a team of professionals across the state to create a video that would meet requirements of the law. It’s a free video that any university in Texas can use and it’s so humbling to know that that video is being seen by thousands of students across the state.”

  1. And now, for some career advice…

Trattner recommended making connections with individuals in the field early on, especially with those whose jobs you would like to have. “E-mail people whose jobs you want and ask to do an informational interview. Just ask, ‘Can I take you out for coffee sometime and hear more about what you do?’ The worst they could say is no, but people love talking about themselves! Plus, there may be a position down the road that they consider you for first before others. Job searching is all about relationship building and confidence.”

Suchy emphasized the importance of being flexible with your plans: “[Working at] Active Minds wasn’t my plan [after college], but the background that I had with Active Minds made me equipped to send resumes to mental health nonprofits. It’s okay if plans don’t work out as you expected them to. Bringing the knowledge that you have with you wherever you go is most important.”

Bertram underscored the importance of practicing self-care, especially for aspiring mental health professionals and advocates. “[You] have to have a support network [you] can call on and good coping mechanisms in place before you get into a job in this field. Write down your self-care plan and tape it up on your desk or at home.”

Feeling pressured to find your dream job right away? Don’t! Harnicher advised, “Don’t jump at the first job opportunity thinking it’s THE one. Take your time and stick to whatever timeline makes the most sense to you, not what society tells you.”

Are you wondering how you can remain involved with advocacy efforts post-graduation, even if you don’t plan to pursue a career in the mental health field? Check out the first post in this series titled, “Life after Active Minds: 5 ways to continue your mental health advocacy after graduation.”

Interviewee Profiles

  Maggie Bertram, Associate Director of Training and Education at Active Minds (Boston, MA)

Maggie holds a Bachelor’s degree in history with a focus in secondary education and Asian studies from Illinois Wesleyan University, and a Master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from the University of Connecticut.  At Active Minds, she currently manages awareness campaigns, runs online courses for Transform You/Transform Your Campus and Our Stories, Our Strengths, and serves as a trainer for and a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

Ashli Haggard, Consulting Services Project Associate (Washington, DC) 

Ashli has a B.S. in community health from the University of Maryland at College Park.  She currently works with a national non-profit organization for sexual assault prevention advocacy. 


Hayley Harnicher, Speakers Bureau Coordinator and Internship Manager at Active Minds, Inc. (Washington, DC)

Hayley majored in psychology at the University of Rochester and now manages interns at the Active Minds office and works to bring members of the Speakers Bureau to students all across the country.


Robyn Suchy, Chapter Coordinator at Active Minds, Inc. (Washington, DC)

Robyn double majored in philosophy and English with minors in social justice and women’s studies at Cabrini University.  He now works with Active Minds chapters on grassroots mental health programming and advocacy initiatives.


Marian Trattner, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)

Marian holds a Bachelor’s degree in social work and a Master’s degree in social work with an emphasis in policy planning and administration from The University of Missouri (Go, Tigers!).  She works in the Counseling and Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin doing community-based suicide prevention programming and outreach. 



Life after Active Minds: 5 ways to continue your mental health advocacy after graduation Mon, 06 Mar 2017 14:39:50 +0000 This post is the first in a two-part series on life after Active Minds.

Have you wondered how you can continue to advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention post-graduation, even if you don’t plan on making a career out of it?  Are you about to graduate and looking to contribute to a workforce that is supportive of mental health?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, keep reading!

We interviewed several professionals (who also all happened to be former Active Minds students!) to learn how their experience as a student advocate with Active Minds influenced their ongoing commitment to mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Here are the 5 ways they suggested students can continue mental health advocacy post-college:

  1. Seek out job or volunteer opportunities that allow you to do this work in another context.

Marian Trattner, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at The University of Texas at Austin, recommended, “Find a mental health organization in your community to volunteer with, like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), or connect with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) chapter in your area.  If there are no organizations like this near you, start one.  Be on the board for a non-profit to learn more about it.”

If you prefer directly interacting with people affected by mental health, Ashli Haggard, a project associate for a sexual assault prevention organization, suggested, “Stay involved by volunteering on hotlines, like 7 Cups of Tea, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or the Crisis Text Line.”

  1. Show off the transferrable skills you gained through Active Minds and similar activities on your resume.

Don’t count out the experiences and skills you’ve gained as a student leader on your campus. Maggie Bertram, Associate Director for Training and Education at Active Minds, Inc., shared how her experience as a resident assistant on campus supports her current work.

“The programming piece was helpful. I hosted events that not that many people showed up to, but they took on really important topics. This kind of environment provides a great training ground for future advocates, because anytime you do mental health programs, you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that maybe only three people will show up.  Then, you have to think, ‘Well, the three people that are here are getting really good messaging!’”

Haggard shared, “My time as president of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee and as a chapter board member helped me coordinate large events and projects that involve lots of volunteers and staff. My time as a campus sexual assault peer educator prepared me for the subject matter I currently work with.  An internship at a hospital helped me learn about program planning and evaluation in larger communities aside from college campuses.  I also held a communications internship at a policy and literacy organization that helped me learn to market programs and develop business skills.”

“No matter what, you will spend the first few months [at a new job] feeling there’s so much to learn.  Every experience is new and you’ll learn something on-the-job that you couldn’t have learned beforehand.  Even if you don’t have 100% of what a job posting is looking for, what they really want to know is, ‘Can you learn to do this?’  The answer should be, ‘yes!’”

  1. Continue practicing self-care.

Regardless of where you go after graduation, the necessity of practicing self-care is important to remember and can be a form of personal mental health advocacy.

Eliza Lanzillo, who now works at the National Institute of Mental Health, shared, “I try to take time each day to check out and do something just for me.  Exercise helps me immensely.  I also take time to cook a nice meal for myself and try different recipes every day.  I read a fiction novel before going to sleep; it’s nice to get off screens and relax and unwind.”

“One of best things I have done for self-care is to not talk about home at work or work at home; I keep the two completely separate,” said Haggard.  “Especially for those working to change some injustice in the world: if you don’t put that down for a second and look at all the good things around you, you’ll burn out.  It doesn’t make you a bad advocate to take a break sometimes.”

Bertram recommended writing down your self-care plan and taping it up to your desk or at home. She also discussed the importance of having a strong support network. “My self-care is connecting to and having conversations with my partner to work through difficult emotions.  She is really good at helping me put things in perspective and adequately feel and process things.”

  1. Make sure your work environment is healthy and supportive.

You may have to do some digging during job interviews to gauge whether or not the workplace climate is one you want to be a part of.  Haggard recommended asking questions about the work environment and the team during job interviews.

“Do people typically work more than 40 hours a week? Do people take their lunch breaks away from their desks? Do coworkers hang out together after work, or do they keep work and play completely separate? What do people say is their favorite thing about working here?  Keep in mind that environments that work for someone else may not work for you, and that’s okay.”

  1. Advocate for mental health in your everyday life in simple ways.

There are ways to incorporate mental health into your professional life, no matter where your career path takes you. Hayley Harnicher, Speakers Bureau Coordinator at Active Minds, said, “My former chapter co-president from the University of Rochester is now a fifth-grade teacher and she incorporates mental health into her job. She’ll wear her Active Minds button to class or a yellow ribbon for Suicide Prevention Week and explain to her students what those things mean.”

You can also exercise your policy advocacy rights as a citizen. “Learn about legislative advocacy and go to mental health advocacy day in your area.  Get trained in what it means to testify in front of your representatives and senators, or write a letter to your representatives and senators asking [them] to advocate for mental health,” said Trattner.

Haggard added, “You can stay involved by becoming a monthly donor to an organization of your choice as this is a major source of revenue for non-profits and one of easiest ways to support their work.  In general, live your life and build your relationships in a mentally healthy and supportive environment.  Stay involved in the movement and share it with those you know through simple conversations in your everyday life.”

Interested in taking the next step and making mental health advocacy your career?  Keep an eye out for the second post in this series titled, “Life after Active Minds: Pursuing a career as a mental health advocate.”


Interviewee Profiles:

 Maggie Bertram, Associate Director of Training and Education at Active Minds (Boston, MA)

Maggie holds a Bachelor’s degree in history with a focus in secondary education and Asian studies from Illinois Wesleyan University, and a Master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from the University of Connecticut.  At Active Minds, she currently manages awareness campaigns, runs online courses for Transform You/Transform Your Campus and Our Stories, Our Strengths, and serves as a trainer for and a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

Ashli Haggard, Consulting Services Project Associate (Washington, DC) 

Ashli has a B.S. in community health from the University of Maryland at College Park.  She currently works with a national non-profit organization for sexual assault prevention advocacy.


Hayley Harnicher, Speakers Bureau Coordinator and Internship Manager at Active Minds, Inc. (Washington, DC)

Hayley majored in psychology at the University of Rochester and now manages interns at the Active Minds office and works to bring members of the Speakers Bureau to students all across the country.


Eliza Lanzillo, Post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (Bethesda, MD)

Eliza earned a B.A. in psychology from Brown University, and now works as an IRTA at NIMH, assisting with clinical research on suicide risk screening instrument development and validation studies.

Marian Trattner, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)

Marian holds a Bachelor’s degree in social work and a Master’s degree in social work with an emphasis in policy planning and administration from The University of Missouri (Go, Tigers!).  She works in the Counseling and Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin doing community-based suicide prevention programming and outreach.  

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February Chapter of the Month: University of Michigan Fri, 24 Feb 2017 13:00:05 +0000

Congratulations to Active Minds at the University of Michigan for being selected as the February Chapter of the Month!  Their advocacy efforts have generated countless conversations about mental health at U of M and beyond, and have yielded hundreds of dollars for the life-changing work we do at Active Minds.

In fall 2016, Active Minds at the University of Michigan was recognized for their mental health advocacy efforts in Mentality Magazine, a new, semesterly publication at U of M with a focus on mental health on campus.  Highlighted in the article was the chapter’s partnership with community-based organizations for mental health; Active Minds at U of M has raised over $2,000 for suicide prevention efforts and strengthened their chapter’s connection to the larger Ann Arbor community along the way.

The fundraising prowess of Active Minds at U of M doesn’t stop there:  the chapter has also teamed up with their university’s food provider, Sodexo, to work the concession stands at athletic events and raise money for Active Minds, Inc.  So far, the chapter has raised over $1,500 for our stigma-fighting efforts!

Active Minds at U of M has also partnered with various on-campus organizations in the last year to raise awareness about mental health and connect their fellow Wolverines to resources.  Frequent collaborators include Counseling and Psychological Services at U of M, Wolverine Support Network (a peer-led support group), the Depression Center, and Student Government.  In October 2016, Active Minds at U of M worked with their student government to host Mental Health Awareness Day, a day-long event that featured free breakfast and a town hall discussion with administration to discuss student mental health.

Next up, Active Minds at U of M will coordinate several events for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, including an a capella fundraising concert, a student speaker discussion event regarding eating disorder recovery, a faculty panel discussing  research on eating disorders, and tabling for awareness throughout the week.

On April 1st and 2nd, Active Minds at U of M will be hosting their third-annual Mental Health Monologues, a signature event where students can share their stories with mental health through dance, song, poetry, and other creative outlets.   The stories cover a range of topics, including what it’s like living with various diagnoses, dealing with a family member’s mental illness, and addressing the stigma of talking about mental health.

When asked to provide advice for chapters looking to expand their fundraising efforts and partnerships on campus, the executive board replied, “Just go for it! Reach out to a wide range of people, organizations, and student government bodies to find connections to mental health that relate to their interests — mental health relates to everyone! It helps to think of ‘mental health’ from different angles. We also have gotten creative with our events -some examples include collaborating with our state’s basketball team, the Detroit Pistons, to fundraise for tickets, creating our own bracelets in collaboration with Pura Vida, and having a concert dedicated to eating disorder awareness.”

Congratulations again to the Active Minds chapter at the University of Michigan!   The national office is proud of your tireless and creative efforts to fight the stigma and foster a friendly climate for mental health on your campus and beyond.